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Catholic Charities CEO refutes Cheektowaga board member's claims

Catholic Charities disputed a Cheektowaga town board member's account that the town reassessed its support for a Catholic Charities student services program due to the organization's decision to end its foster care and adoption program.

Dennis Walczyk, CEO and diocesan director for Catholic Charities, said Wednesday that the organization has been in talks with town officials regarding the possible disbandment of a school intervention program since January.

The decision to end the foster care and adoption program happened in August. Catholic Charities says it made the decision to end the programs due to a conflict between church teachings and New York State rules that bar discrimination.

"It sounds like they made the decision based solely on the adoption decision, but that's just totally inaccurate," Walczyk said.

During a rally Tuesday for support of LGBTQ families in front of Catholic Charities' administrative office, Cheektowaga Town Board Member Brian Nowak spoke of how Cheektowaga reassessed its support of Catholic Charities after the adoption decision. Nowak said Cheektowaga reduced its annual contribution for a school intervention services program from $113,000 to $60,000 in the proposed 2019 budget.

"We've been working with the town, with the school districts and with parents for months," Walczyk said.

An email was sent to Catholic Charities officials on Tuesday from The Buffalo News that was not answered. A spokesman on Wednesday said the agency would have responded, but the email went to a “spam folder” and was not seen.

Walczyk said he attended a Cheektowaga Town Board meeting Wednesday night, and he said there was no discussion, either by the board or via public comment, about the adoption decision contributing to the reduction of its Catholic Charities programs. Walczyk said Nowak was at the meeting.

Walczyk said Catholic Charities' school intervention services program, which serves children who are residents of Cheektowaga's school districts, has been in existence in Cheektowaga for 25 years.

"In nine months this year we have served 250 children, which is 98 percent of our goal for the calendar year," Walczyk said. "The service is meeting all of its outcomes as far as its impact on children and family services, and our hope is that the town continues to support this.

"It's a great service, and we've had great outcomes," he said.

Catholic Charities also issued the following statement in response to Tuesday's rally.

"Catholic Charities of Buffalo acknowledges that there is anger and disappointment associated with the Aug. 23 decision to phase out adoption and foster care services at Catholic Charities. We also recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their feelings and beliefs in a peaceable manner," according to the statement.

Catholic Charities said it has "worked closely with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, the Erie County Department of Social Services, the foster care families and foster care agencies to implement a seamless transition for the adoption and foster care program. The transition of adoption and foster care children and families is expected to be completed by mid-November."

Foster care families were given their choice of agency to join, and already have chosen their new agency home, according to Catholic Charities.

"In fact, many of the families were able to transition to their agency of choice with their current caseworker, since our caseworkers have made the same choice of agency," according to the statement.

Of the nine program staff members affected by the change, six employees have elected to go to the same agency with the foster families, two have taken other positions within Catholic Charities, and one has decided on a career path change, the agency said.

"Since the August announcement, Catholic Charities’ leaders have met and communicated with many key stakeholders," according to the statement. "Our goal is to reassure our partners that the agency continues to provide the same high quality service it has always provided people in need across Western New York, and is equally committed to non-discrimination of clients in the provision of services and of our employees and volunteers – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, religion (creed), age, national origin, disability, marital status, or military status."

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